Cathy is sick. Her teeth look like pieces of rotten corn. She’s 42 years old.
I pull my cab up to the doctor’s office and she walks out the front door very slowly. She looks at me with sad eyes above a white cloth mask which covers her mouth and nose.

“It’s you,” she says.

“Hi, Cathy.”

Her hair has thinned and gone gray and then been dyed brown with a cheap store-bought dye. Her ears have fallen and are sticking almost straight out under the straps of the mask.

“Allergies,” she says in a muffled voice.

She asks me not to go down certain roads because of roughness which will aggravate her and hurt her. Any potholes, forget it. I have to take the long way. This means a larger fare on the meter. She smells like urine and talks as if nothing is wrong.

“How’s the art going?” I say.

“I’ve been doing animal portraits,” she says. Cathy went to school and got an MFA. That seems like a lifetime ago, but now she has the time and has finally been able to pursue her dream. She gets tears in her eyes when she thinks about it.

She remembers one thing her art teacher told her that she would never forget: art comes from pain. Well, she’s had so much pain she’s numbed to it. What now? She would contact her art teacher to ask her, but her art teacher got canned for selling drugs to students and kind of fell off the map.

When we get to her house, I help her to the door. She has a pillow the doctor gave her and it is too heavy for her to carry.

In the living room, I put the pillow down and look up at the wall. It is dominated by three large paintings. The paintings are very bright, mainly yellow, and the main subjects are giant green turtles, one turtle per canvas. On the corrugated shell of the middle turtle, a blue mermaid lies curled in the fetal position with her hair flowing back. She could be dead, but I prefer to think she’s sleeping. The paintings are so bad they almost make me angry.

“Would you look at that,” I say.

She looks at her paintings. She still hasn’t taken off her mask.

“I can’t use oils or charcoal,” she says, “because of my lungs. I use acrylic.”

We stand looking at the paintings. My stomach is a pit of uselessness.

“I better go,” I say.

She pays the fare and a small tip. Then I’m in the taxi again. I roll the window down to the sunny afternoon, hoping the dispatcher will give me something else, and quick.


This is an excerpt from Mather Schneider’s new memoir, 6 to 6. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.